Graduate Summer Research Prizes
The Program in American Studies invites applications for a small number of research prizes to graduate students working towards Ph.D. degrees in departments associated with the Program. We expect to make no more than three such awards:
In addition a third prize, in the amount of $5,000, may go to an exceptional post-enrollment student working on a dissertation that is seriously engaged with core American Studies themes. In addition to the common application, an applicant for this prize needs to submit a dissertation abstract, at least one completed chapter from the dissertation, a letter of recommendation from the dissertation advisor, a cv, and a description of how the applicant intends to use the prize money.
We expect prize winners to present their work during the 2013-2014 academic year in the graduate salon of the Program in American Studies and to participate in the American Studies Workshop and in other events and activities of the Program.
The deadline for submission of all application materials is Friday, February 15 for fellowships that will be awarded by June 2013. Applicants should submit the common application to the Graduate School office. The common application is available on the Graduate School website.
SUMMER 2014 AMS RESEARCH WINNERS:
Sean Beienburg, Department of Politics. My project seeks to provide an account of American states’ rights and federalist discourse by understanding the presence and causes of constitutional backlash from state legislators, governors, and electorates to national policies involving individual rights and liberties. My dissertation provides a political history of such resistance to the national government after Reconstruction, rooted primarily in state legislative journals and local newspaper accounts. I argue that constitutional opposition to the national government is continuous and deeply embedded in the American polity, but that the intensity of state constitutional resistance more closely tracks the evolution of the American party systems than it does regional or other causes. With the national parties only weakly differentiated from each other in their constitutional visions from 1880 until the New Deal, state level Republicans and Democrats alike, from both conservative and progressive wings, produced vociferous but weak constitutional resistance across a wide set of issues such as prohibition or state cooperation in national welfare policies. Previous accounts of state level constitutional politics tend to miss this ongoing resistance because they typically conclude their studies with the coming of the Civil War or focus on Washington, D.C. This tends to confine our understanding of state constitutional resistance as based in southern racial conservatism while downplaying other expressions, such as the nation’s strong progressive decentralist tradition. I conclude that with the singular, though crucial, exception of race, the North and more recently the West have actually been more likely to invoke states’ rights claims throughout American history.
Ashley Lazevnick, Department of Art and Archaeology. My dissertation considers the paintings, photographs, and poems created by a group of early twentieth century artists affiliated with American Precisionism. Painters such as Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth, and Georgia O’Keeffe were among those who cultivated a “machine aesthetic” style, defined by photorealist techniques and industrial landscapes. The term Precisionism was applied to their work retroactively: to create in hindsight a group that was never coherent during the 1920s and 1930s, when these artists were most active. Because the term Precisionism seems to support the myth of America’s mimetic modernism—its mere copying of European styles and modern subject-matter—it has been largely jettisoned by revisionist art historians. In contrast, my project seeks a nuanced understanding of the term “precision” in period discourse. At the time precision was colloquially associated with science, but often in a generalized manner. What are the stakes of using precision to categorize artistic production? To answer such a question, I look beyond art criticism to philosophical writing, in the essays of American Pragmatists William James and C.S. Peirce, and poetry, in the work of Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams. An odd mix of logic, romanticism, curiosity, and imagination constellate these figures around the term “precise.” From this mix, I develop a richer notion of aesthetic precision that is better suited to investigate the enigmatic, multivalent canvases of Precisionist painters.
Heath Pearson, Department of Anthropology. “The whole problem in these small towns is the families that move in to be close to the inmates,” a Corrections Officer said to me in the prison’s parking lot. According to the muscly officer, the prison itself was not “the problem.” Instead, what followed the prison into town was “the problem.” Contrary to popular opinion, prisons are not stagnant structures, concrete and barbwire fences, that simply house transplanted offenders and employ local residents. Instead, prisons are things that leak from all sides—Corrections Officers that go back to their neighborhoods and families after work, “illicit economies” that attach to the prisons and create new pathways in these towns, and families that move from urban environments to these rural environments, to name only a few. My ethnographic fieldwork is an exploration of these things that leak. My project is an attempt to expand on the research revolving around the Prison Industrial Complex. Much of the current conversation explores the topic as if it is self-contained and stable, a phenomenon to be studied on its own. And though this research has been and continues to be invaluable for understanding the larger, historical picture, it leaves many lingering questions. What happens in the actual (often rural) towns where federal prisons are built? When a family with an imprisoned loved one moves to the “prison town,” how do they negotiate their new landscape? These are only two (of my many and always-expanding) questions, but they help to localize the conversation that can sometimes appear detached and immaterial. My work is an effort to continue exploring the “whole problem” at the local level.